Tag Archives: writers-forum

Time limits

Phil: To those who’ve taken the time to read our short story, Lot 38, thank you.  Today’s post was supposed to show the feedback we received from Writers-Forum but about 10 minutes ago I read this comic on the Oatmeal and changed my mind.

One of the panels explains that “I sometimes solicit ideas from other people, but I rarely use their suggestions. Instead, hearing their idea allows me to see another one more clearly.”

This is true and it’s how Lot 38 came about.

Candice and I were lunching in the pub one day, discussing writing short stories. We decided that if you want to carry the reader, your tale needs a bit of pace and that possibly the best plan was to look for ideas with a timescale or deadline. A classic plot involves is a bomb, which in the movies is always fitted with a great big red countdown timer. There’s no need for this but it helps build tension as the audience know that something is going to happen. We don’t know what but even if the hero just sits around drinking coffee, events will carry on around him. Should he wish to affect the outcome, it’s time to step away from the latte and get a move on.

Bombs are a bit old hat but there are lots of other situations that can be employed – the arrival of a train was good for 3:10 to Yuma. High noon and 24 both stuck the timescale in the title.

I don’t know how, but as we chatted, the idea of an auction popped into my head. Maybe it’s because Bigwoods auctioneer’s operate from opposite our lunch venue, or maybe it’s just that I love the atmosphere of a good auction and have sat in quite a few over the years. Candice has never been to an auction, probably a good thing as I fear that she would be fantastically competitive leading to paying well over the odds to win, or hunting down her opponent later. (Can you tell she’s on holiday so I can say this without fear?)

Anyway, I had the scene, all I needed was the story. We rattled some ideas around a bit, by which time I was fired up to go and make some words. Writing the piece didn’t actually take very long and the subsequent edits were minimal. Sometimes, an idea is so strong that it just works.

Anyway, you probably want to know the official critique:

Title: Apt for the story, but not intriguing.

Opening: This introduces the main character and contains a hook to grab the reader’s attention, giving us a reason to read on.

Dialogue: Very good – the dialogue helps to drive the story onwards and also aids characterisation.

 Characterisation: Good – the characters come to life on the page.

Overall: The ending is a bit too predictable. I feel you need to mislead the reader more. Throw in a couple of subplots to take the reader’s mind off the main storyline. You have an easy to read writing style, but in a short story one of the characters (usually the main one) is changed or grows as a result of what happens to him or her. This depends too heavily on the twist (which, as I have pointed out, is easy spot almost from the outset) and needs a few more layers to give the plot depth.

One to learn from – use this experience to help with your next story

So, not bad but not great. I’m not sure how to cram more subplots into the story but not add more than about 1000 words. Suggestions for the sort of sub-plot that we could wedge in would be appreciated too. Part of the joy of using an auction is the intensity of the moment. When you are bidding, it’s a battle of nerves between two people. Perhaps the other bidder should have been more aggressive but then I wanted to contrast his attitude with the main character who so desperately wanted the painting. Maybe the idea of it being of great value and a potential financial saviour should be turned up to 11, the daughter could take a larger role, perhaps with her own internal dialogue.

Maybe there will be Lot 38 (MKII) here soon!


Filed under Phil, Writing

The Cathedral Killer feedback

Phil: OK, you’ve now read our short story, The Cathedral Killer (Part 1 and Part 2) we entered it into the Writers Forum short story competition and also paid for some feedback. Here’s what we received:

Presentation: Manuscript layout needs some attention. You might find this post useful: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/manuscript-presentation/ and also this one: http://thewritersabcchecklist.blogspot.com/2011/01/punctuating-dialogue.html for dialogue punctuation. When a sentence starts with a number it has to be written out in words. Salaciously isn’t the right word in context. Typos: over hang/overhang, though/thought, brothers/brother’s, see/seen, back packing/backpacking, no-where/nowhere

Title: Good – apt for the story and intriguing.

Opening: This introduces the main character, but it doesn’t contain a compelling reason to read on. A strong hook is needed to grab the reader’s attention.

Dialogue: The dialogue helps to drive the story but doesn’t do as much as it could to aid characterisation.

Characterisation: Brad didn’t come to life as a real person. I think you could have used his dialogue to flesh him out more – particularly as you want the readers to believe he is the killer.

Overall: I realised a bit too early that she was the killer – it had to be her because it obviously wasn’t Brad. I think you need to give us another red herring so that readers will believe it is Brad. In other words, make another character suspicious, the readers will discount him and look for someone else, so Brad needs to be the next logical person but appear to be above suspicion (which then makes him suspicious).

Needs some work but has potential


OK, it’s not the ringing endorsement we were hoping for but I think I can see where most of it comes from. We’re still at the stage of trying to balance writing enough story to make it interesting with keeping the short story, well, short. If another character was added to make Brad more suspicious, would we need to increase the length of the thing by a third to give this person some dialogue ? Does this matter ?

To be fair, I’d had the same “I guessed the killer too early” point made by a friend who read the story. Throwing red herrings in is much harder than you would think. Agatha Christie was brilliant at this yet she’s often accused of writing pot-boilers. On the other hand we want people to be able to guess the outcome. I hate it when a deus ex machina gets the writer out of a hole. I want to solve the crime, or at least realise I could have solved it.

Still, at least we have potential. Maybe we will re-work the story and re-publish it at a later date in some sort of anthology. Mind you, we’ve also had ideas along the lines of turning it into a play where the audience take the part of the tourists following the tour. Potential indeed.


Filed under Phil, Writing

Investing in my writing

Phil: Being quite happy with quality of the feedback we’ve received from Writers-forum for our last short story, We’re planning to submit another entry. It’s ready, edited, polished and perfect, or so we think.

Checking the entry details, to take part costs £6. This is cut by half for subscribers to the magazine – so, I wonder if it’s worth subscribing. After all, this is £36 or the money saved on twelve entries. Can you see my Scottish and Polish blood lines coming through ?

Anyway, a trip to WH Smith sees me the proud owner of a copy of said magazine. It’s got a nice shiny cover and decent quality paper (I do work with other magazines, trust me, this is important). Settling down with a mug of tea and a little cake, I start to read. You know what ? It’s really not bad at all. I know you can’t really judge a magazine by a single issue (unless my byline is in there, in which case it’s as good as you get) but I pretty quickly find a couple of pieces that set me thinking which seems like a good thing.

I also have the chance to read the winning short stories for September. These don’t seem anything like as good as ours, in fact I can’t get through the winner at all. The judges might think it “sucks them in” but I only agree with one of those words. It is useful to read other people’s work even if I don’t like it, the skill is working out exactly what I don’t like and trying to learn from their mistakes, or at least understand why I might be wrong (surely not).

Anyway, the website is down so I make a quick phone call and hand over my credit card details for a years worth of magazines. If I am serious about writing, and I am, then I need more input. Ignoring the money for a moment (I’ll get that back with 10 miutes worth of sales once The Book gets published) I need to make time  to read this stuff. You can’t learn by osmosis, the mag must be read from cover to cover every month, in many ways the investment is more in time than money. It’s certainly quicker than a college course in creative writing and cheaper too. Who knows what I might learn, or what opportunities will appear to be grasped ?

Writers-Forum website

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Filed under Phil, Writing